'New year started a destruction campaign'
And in 2021, a destruction campaign started. On 29 January, an unexpected search was conducted at our editorial office. We were not there, we were at our homes having a Zoom meeting. They took office equipment, documents, money, some printed products, promotional materials. About six months later, we managed to retrieve all equipment in operating state, money. Nothing was broken, damaged. But the promotional materials we could not get back: they said they destroyed it.
That was when the 'information campaign' started. During the search, they confiscated an old mobile phone which we used for call recording. It stored one old document from 2015, which I had completely forgotten about. Hrodna.life hadn't even existed in its present form yet. Something about me having received about 100 or 150 Euros from a Polish foundation which produced Polish TV shows I have been running for the last five years. I pay taxes in Belarus, it's not a secret. But the propagandists published that document, like, 'Look, Shota lives on Polish money.' They probably implied I've been running the editorial office for six years with that money.
It was clear this was just the beginning and they would push until the end. There were two cases in six months: for spreading extremist information, for a repost from a Telegram channel or using a photo with its logo. Both the firm and I and Irina Novik were involved in the case. We were punished twice for one violation with huge fines, more than 26 thousand BYN.
Then our Telegram channel was recognized as extremist and we had to delete it and start a new one. We lost a lot of subscribers.
Very soon after that, the prosecutor filed a lawsuit requesting to liquidate our organisation because, in his opinion, it violated the law multiple times. In fact, it was a misinterpretation: single court proceedings cannot be interpreted as multiple violations of the law. The mission here was to close the medium as soon as possible.
Eventually, on 26 August they forced us to close before 30 November. We are in no hurry. Our employees, whose employment was terminated, were on holiday, now it's my turn. When we're all back, we'll have two months to close.
'There was a major shift… so they started to pressure the local media'
In 2020, for the first time in many years—maybe even in the whole history of the independent Belarus—something actually happened in regions. Earlier, nothing happened except for rare events, such as protesting against the battery plant. Political fighting has always been concentrated in Minsk. I love Minsk very much, but I have to admit it is a vampire suckin everything out from the regions, Minsk's agenda always prevails.
And then this major shift. For example, there is a case in Hrodna similar to the walk-around case (a protest case involving a lot of Brest citizens. — Ed.), the 'Molochny Mir' case. As far as we know, there are several hundreds of people who might be punished.